Researchers say effective drug ‘offers hope’ to help fight COVID-19

As the race to combat the coronavirus continues, researchers believe they’ve found new use for an old drug, one that has been primarily used to treat gout — a form of arthritis.

A study conducted by a team of researchers with the Montreal Heart Institute found that colchicine could be the first oral medication to treat non-hospitalized patients with COVID-19.

“I believe that this offers a lot of hope for patients and for the governments and health-care systems, to reduce the congestion of the system and the use of intensive care units,” said Dr. Jean-Claude Tardif, director of the Montreal Heart Institute research centre.

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The randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled study, called COLCORONA, tested 4,159 patients diagnosed with COVID-19 in Canada, the United States, Europe, South America, and South Africa.

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The participants were not hospitalized at the time of enrollment.

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The results showed that the drug reduced hospitalizations by 25 per cent, the need for ventilators by 50 per cent and decreased deaths by 44 per cent.

“Patients who have asthma, diabetes, heart disease, other respiratory diseases — all of these people are at risk of suffering complications,” said Tardif. “So I would probably mostly target colchicine therapy to these individuals who are at risk of having complications so we can prevent them from going to the hospital.”

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Since the drug is already known and is being used for other illnesses, it’s already available in pharmacies.

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In fact, Dr. Joe Schwarcz says doctors have already started to prescribe it. Though he calls the results of the study encouraging, he warns that it needs to be validated by other experts.

“Usually researchers will submit their data to a journal, it will undergo peer review, it will be published and then we know whether or not to jump on the bandwagon that’s rolling by,” he said.

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Schwarcz also warns that colchicine could interact with other medications that people are taking, which has yet to be explored.

“Because of the way that colchicine is metabolized in the body, the enzymes used to metabolize it, those are the same enzymes used to metabolize a number of other drugs,” said Schwarcz. “So it is conceivable that there could be some sort of a cross reaction — either making the other drugs more or less potent.”

The team of researchers say they have sent the results of the study to a scientific journal for review and are awaiting publication.

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